How Could We Forget?

Never forget, we are reminded. How could we forget the clear blue sky on the cool September morning? How could we forget the routines we followed on our way to work, our way from work, our way out of town? How could we forget a shower of paper, like confetti, streaming down from the crippled towers? We stared at the horror for hours. How could anyone forget images of the wreckage at the Pentagon, or in a field in Pennsylvania?

A collective memory of 9/11 has arisen out of the thousands of individual images and accounts of that day and the ones that followed, details so replete with emotion and detail that, for anyone paying attention, have created sort of a mega-narrative we carry in our hearts and minds. I didn’t directly know anyone who perished that day, but in just listening and reading over the years, I’ve come to indirectly “know” a few of those who lost their lives that day, a small group of the nearly 3,000 who represent for me the lost promise of so many lives cut short: Georgetown professor Leslie Whittington and her family; Father Mychal Judge of the NYPD, saying last rites for people falling to their deaths; Rick Rescorla, who directed Morgan Stanley’s emergency preparedness and, through his efforts, evacuated nearly all staff from the World Trade Center; Paul Acquaviva, husband of a woman who is a close friend of a close friend of ours; and LTG Timothy Maude, whose daughter attended a study program at Cambridge University with me in the summer of 2002. They, like all the rest, were—like you and me—just doing what they were supposed to be doing that morning, in the places they were supposed to be. In the right place, at the right time.

I cannot imagine what it feels like to be in the inner circle of grief shared by the friends and families of these individuals—or those with more direct experience of surviving the attacks. But through all the ways of remembering and telling their stories and the narrative of that day, we continue to build up in our collective conscious a stronger edifice of memory and emotion of September 11, the date that needs no year. How can we ever forget?

– Fred Dews, September 11, 2011

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